college essay and standard format

Ok — I’ve thought about this a little more and want to clarify a few points.

“Abandon all format” is a little bit of an overstatement. What I really meant was that the traditional, five paragraph essay that kids are taught in school is NOT the right format for a college essay — too restrictive, repetitive … and “letting it flow” is good — essays should really flow and not seem forced. When I mentioned your particular writing style, David, I was trying to highlight the heartfelt, vivid (there’s that word again!) way that you write … but I don’t want to give the impression that punctuation, spelling and grammar don’t matter in a college essay — they really do — again, remember that the reader is tired, overworked — and if there are mis-spellings, or if the essay is hard to follow,etc., it’s just plain irritating …

Also — when you say “pick one” below — all those are great ideas, but it doesn’t HAVE to be one of those — and it doesn’t HAVE to be Neahtawanta … I just figured that that was probably pretty fertile territory. You’ll see in the packet of essays (that I will forward to you shortly) — there are quite a few that play upon that theme of family ties that you are encouraging Michael to explore (I’m always a sucker for that type of essay …)

A great role for parents to play is to brainstorm with the kid before he ever writes a single word — helping the kid recognize some of his own attributes that he might not even be fully aware of … and then helping him recall anecdotes that illustrate that point … you should all take a look at the current Common App essay prompts together — they might trigger some ideas … and “topic of choice” (which used to allow a kid to write about anything) has been eliminated … the prompts are general enough that most topics can be made to fit one of them, but they shouldn’t be disregarded all together.

And “make it longer; too short” … is not a hard and fast rule — a good college essay can be the length Michael’s was — but it should be jam packed with VIVID images … Michael’s wasn’t … The current Common App guidelines say the essays should be 650 words or fewer …

Remember that you have very little space in the Common App to tell the admissions committee who you really are — and you don’t want to waste that opportunity. Another name for the college essay is the ‘personal statement’ — I think that’s a much better name … you are trying to give colleges a glimpse of who you are as a person … “college essay” just sounds like one more writing assignment.

I’ve pulled together some good personal statements and will email them to you shortly … I think you’ll “get it” after reading a few of these …

Good luck!

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